Confetti on the floor.
I have been putting this off for far too long – details are slipping me by already, but damn it – I should just carry on and get along with it before my memory fails me completely.
So. The one thing that I know I did right last year, was this: I signed up for a guided tour of Melbourne and Sydney that took place in November 2008. There was a lot of indecision on my part (“Sydney? Again?”), plenty of ding-dong-ing about (“What about New Zealand?” … “Shut up and pick your date of departure, already.”), but I am glad that it all worked out well in the end.
Melbourne, 20-22 November 2008
The eight-hour-or-so flight was rather uneventful. Halfway across some islands south of Indonesia, came some excitement, like things that go bump in the night. Supper was being served, and we watched on, fixated, as the juices, coffee and tea in our cups swirled teasingly round the rims… then the expected climax came: our drinks practically flew right out of our cups as the plane made a violent shudder in the air. You know there was a definite cause for concern when even the captain barked: “Cabin crew, please be seated.”
(Of course, there is no need to go into further details of what happened to me next – but if you must know, it includes usage of a few air sickness bags. So.)
As usual, I had trouble sleeping although it was an overnight flight – but at some point, the plane crossed over from dark into light. That was one of the best moments I have ever had while being stuck in a restrictive, claustrophobic-inducing moving contraption so many miles off the ground, all the while still longing forlornly to have both my feet back on good ol’ earth again.
In Melbourne, we were made to live like nomads, never staying in a hotel for more than a night. Many hours were spent on wheels as we ran through winding roads by choppy blue seas, little lanes up and down green rolling hills, and narrow paths at quaint countrysides with yellowed grass and black and white cattle. The weather was mostly cloudy and rainy for all the three days we were there – which was quite unfortunate as it meant little opportunities for decent photo-taking.
Our first trip immediately upon arrival on Australian soil was to the famed Great Ocean Road – one of Australia’s most scenic coastline drives – a good few hours away from the city. There was intermittent drizzle all the while, but I got what I wanted – to see the Twelve Apostles, though I can never understand the fascination that I have for these rocks by the sea (and later, similarly, of the Three Sisters up at the Blue Mountains in Sydney).
“This is it?” I asked my mother, bewildered, as a helicopter bearing excited tourists circled overhead. “People spend hours on the road to come all the way here, just to see these bunch of lonely rocks?”
There are only eight of the “apostles” left as of today (a few have collapsed due to constant erosion), so better late than never, I guess.
We also stopped briefly at Loch Ard Gorge, where a ship ran aground more than a century ago (all but two of its fifty-one passengers and crew perished in the tragedy), and Australia’s very own London Bridge, also known as the London Arch (the middle part of the bridge collapsed in 1990 and two tourists stranded on the outer part had to be rescued by helicopter).
That night, we put up in a hotel in Warrnambool and had dinner at a local Chinese restaurant that served corn soup as its starter.
Day Two saw us on the road again, heading to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. I doubt I can ever get tired of the sights and sounds of the sprawling countryside that stretch on seemingly to blissful oblivion, occasionally dotted with trees and domesticated animals. That, I think, would make a pleasant view to wake up to every morning.
Sovereign Hill feels like a step back to the past, to the era of the gold rush circa 1850. It is essentially an open air museum, with its historically recreated buildings and horse-drawn carriages casting off a wild-wild-west vibe. A small creek here enables visitors to pan for gold – undoubtedly one of the highlights of this place, as people are seen getting down and dirty on their knees, patiently shaking their pans and scrutinising its contents intently for even the faintest resemblance of something gold-ish. There is scarcely any lump of pure gold to be found, but even the discovery of gold dust is enough to send us all smiling broadly. Streams of gold, indeed.
Later that day, we returned to the city, dropping by Queen Victoria’s Market for a bit of shopping, before strolling about the Royal Botanical Gardens, Flinders Station, and Federation Square. Dinner was in Chinatown – as soon as we settled into our seats, we were served corn soup. Our hotel was on Swanston Street, which was considered one of the main streets of Melbourne – a rather strategic location with shops and amenities at every turn, but one we did not manage to make full use of, as we were mostly away from the hotel during the day.
We woke up bright and early on the third day to visit a winery in Yarra Valley. Having started off with some wine tasting in Domaine Chandon (I must admit that I have no particular interest in wines, though one from our tour group got a little… over-excited, after mixing two glasses of different wines together), we were then given a “special” tour around the winery. It was considered as such because we deviated from the usual tour route, thus getting access to supposedly restricted areas – though our guide ushered us along so quickly, the tour was completed in a matter of minutes.
At this point, we got better acquainted with the other tour members – there would be the token clown of the group, who cracked jokes at every other opportunity; the family with a pair of rowdy twins in tow; the ones you stare daggers at for turning up late half the time.
After lunch at Fergusson Valley, it was back to the city for a visit up to the southern hemisphere’s highest viewing platform – the Eureka Skydeck 88. A fairly new attraction in Melbourne, Skydeck 88 also has a glass cube called “The Edge”, which protrudes a few metres from the building to make it seem as though you were standing on air. I love how some of the photos taken from this height turned out – they had this SimCity feel all over them.
We had dinner again in Chinatown, where the almighty corn soup made its way into the menu for the third time. We heaved a collective sigh. “I hope we don’t get corn soup again tomorrow,” a fellow tour member moans.
That night, we evaded the same storm that reportedly tripped power lines in Queensland, and headed for Sydney.
Next: Sydney, 23-25 November 2008